A White House brief on Tuesday took an interesting turn, as reporters asked some tough questions of Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Although the conference touched on the Derek Chauvin trial and coronavirus, with the date being 4/20, which is an informal holiday celebrated by cannabis enthusiasts.
Psaki was addressed frankly, as a lot of people want to know: where will Biden land in the battle of the marijuana movement? As a democratic president, his views are more lenient than other republicans who have held office. While many voters believed that he would be sympathetic to ending marijuana prohibition on a federal level, it turns out that as far as democrats go, Biden is slightly more rigid in his outlook on pot than others in his party.
Biden on Expungement and Rescheduling Marijuana
When asked about Biden’s feelings of current legislation being circulated in both houses, Psaki had this to say:
“The president supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts and, at the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records,” she said. “He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana so that’s his point of view on the issue.”
The reporter pressed Psaki, again asking plainly if Biden would actively oppose legislation even if both the house and senate supported it. Her response was to simply restate the President’s stance, and neither confirm or deny his plans to sign a bill that would end federal prohibition. Instead, she replied that there is no reason to wonder when the bill hasn’t passed yet.
It is difficult to understand his reticence, when legislators such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are willingly declaring their support for federal legislation supporting cannabis reform.
Additionally, the house passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking act, a bipartisan effort, on Monday. This is a great win for cannabis businesses, as it would allow American financial institutions to bank with business owners legally, without the concern that federal fines might be imposed.
When asked if the president supported this, again with an emphasis on the fact that party lines were cooperating to address this rather important US issue, Psaki had to reply that she did not know, but would ask and issue a statement at a later time.
Reporters also drew Psaki’s attention to previous claims by the Biden administration to grant clemency to federal prisoners who were incarcerated for marijuana only offenses.
A reporter asked Paski point-blank, “Given, as you’ve noted in the briefing, the president’s support for decriminalization, support for expunging exactly these types of offenses, are there any plans to revisit some of those bids for clemency?”
Her response was lacking, especially over a concept that was proposed by Biden himself. Psaki commented, “Well, I think when I’m talking about resched- — rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug, so red- — that is also going to have an impact on the criminal justice system as well.”
That is definitely not a clear cut answer, and is quite possibly a very concerning stance for a president to take. The biggest challenge with this scenario described by Press Secretary Psaki is that getting a substance ‘rescheduled’ is in no way a simple or short process.
When referencing a specific American Citizen imprisoned for growing cannabis under a perfectly legal state medical marijuana license, Psaki had this to say: “Well, I would just take it as an opportunity to reiterate that the president supports legalizing medicinal marijuana,” Psaki said. “It sounds like this would have been applicable in this case, and of course decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records. In terms of individual cases, I can’t get ahead of those obviously.”
Biden Cannabis Policy Inconsistent with Campaign Promises
The cannabis discussions at the briefing were a far cry from what cannabis supporters were hoping to hear, especially on a day that is considered an unofficial cannabis holiday. Although we hear the things that Biden does support when it comes to marijuana reform, it falls flat compared to the promises made on the campaign trail.
The Press Secretary did not confirm that Biden will oppose federal prohibition, but the flow of information did not send a positive message.
Regardless of party lines, any candidate worth the American Presidency should at least be able to openly support banking improvements for this newly thriving industry, and clemency for incarcerated Americans who have been penalized heavily for something that is now decriminalized, or legalized on some level, in a majority of states.
If the president cannot find the middle ground in the fight over cannabis legalization, there will be a large swath of supporters who find that their expectations are in conflict with reality. Stay tuned as we follow the proposed legislation that could aid in marijuana reform on the federal level.
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